Tennessee Education Commissioner Visits Rotary Club
by Bob Augustin Jr.
Dr. Tim Webb, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner, was the featured speaker at the December 4, 2009 meeting of the Lawrenceburg Rotary Club. Dr. Webb stated that he recently had participated in education forum in Knoxville and while driving to Knoxville he began to review the presentation he was going to deliver to the panel that morning. He began to reflect on his mother's stories of her educational experience in a one-room school in rural Lewis County.
Although his mother only completed the eight grade, because her home was too far away to attend high school in Hohenwald, her teacher in elementary school had instilled in her a love for reading. She in turned passed this love of reading on to her nine children.
Dr. Webb said he then fast-forwarded to his school days in the 1960's. Some of the same teachers who had taught in the one-room schools of his mother's time were still teaching in the school system in Lewis County and they had inspired his love of reading and education. He then fast-forwarded again to the present and his five month old grandson and wondered what would his educational experience be like with all the modern eduational tools available now, computers, the Internet, web-based classes, etc., and those yet to be invented.
The common denominator in each of these instances , Dr. Webb said, was the teacher who cared about his students and inspired them to learn. Although important, all the educational tools in the world can't teach a child, can't inspire a child, without dedicated teachers. They are the backbone of our educational system. We need to support and thank these folks. Hug a teacher.
Dr. Webb also addressed the budget cuts that the state faces in light of the revenue shortfalls in the current ecomony. The budget cuts come on the heels of the state's recent increased requirements and higher standards required for students to graduate. The purpose of the new standards is to increase student's test scores, with Tennessee currently ranking 47th or 48th out of 50 states, and thereby make Tennessee students competitive in the job market with anyone in the world. Dr. Webb said that initially students scores would show a decline until students could be brought up to speed, but would improve over time. When the scores decline, there will be those who will seek to reduce the requirements and standards, as some states are already doing.
"We can't back up," Webb emphasized, "We must stay the course.' If we stay the course, in the long run, the scores will improve. This is a marathon, not sprint.
Dr. Webb reported that Tennessee was one of the top five contenders for federal funds in "The Race to the Top". Tennessee is one of the leading candidates in The Race for the Top program because the state already had initiated increased requirements and higher standards for its students and because of new and innovative education programs in the state. The recipients will be announced in April 2010.
When asked by a club member "What can we do as Rotarians and individuals to help reach these goals?", Dr. Webb replied that what was needed was grassroot support of the Department of Education's initiative. When the intitial test scores decline initially, there will be those who will want to back up and return to the way it was. Your job will be to inform your elected officials and education professionals that we must stay the course or we will be selling our students short. "We can't back up," said Dr. Webb.
Pictured above: L to R, Jack Grinnell, Rotary Club President, Dr. Tim Webb, Commissioner, Department of Education, and Dr. Bill Heath, Lawrence County Director of Schools.